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Welfare reform: what’s the deal now?

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Ooh, James Purnell. Those kindly eyes, that roguish smile, that cheeky little pro-war voting record. He can call me any time, but meanwhile, guys and gals, let’s satisfy our post-adolescent political lust by calling the Secretary on welfare reform.

The national drive towards reform of the benefits system has been gathering momentum over the past 18 months, with the pace stepping up from January when the Conservative party released ‘Work for Welfare’, a short proposal for some pretty draconian reforms to the current welfare state where all ‘able bodied’ men and women would be expected to work (the fact that one in four claimants of incapacity benefit are severely mentally ill clearly does not register with tory stiff-upper-lippers). Hot on the heels of this report came Purnell’s green paper, the rather more progressively titled ‘No One Written Off: Reforming Welfare to Reward Responsibility.’ Cue a tiresome little inter-party squabble with a lot of bitchy back-handing to the BBC over just whose idea it was to bring the British welfare system into the 21st century.

On first reading, both reports advocate a greater emphasis on individuals taking responsibility for and ‘earning’ their own benefits; both want to encourage more people into work and provide better checks to do so; both want a clearer distinction between the genuinely needy and those relatively able to work, those whom a medieval government might have called ‘sturdy beggars’. The net effect of the reforms is that in October 2008 a new Employment and Support Allowance will be introduced for new claimants of Incapacity Benefit and other benefits before being rolled out to all recipients.

There, the similarity between the proposals ends. It must be made absolutely clear that Purnell’s green paper treads an extremely fine line between positive reforms that empower people to work and victimisation and further isolation of already poor and vulnerable sections of society. For now, in the months pre-instigation, the proposals come through relatively successfully, with welcome additions such as a long-overdue simplification of the benefits claiming system, making it easier for genuinely needy claimants to access vital support. Until you’ve sat up with a severely physically and emotionally disable friend and watched them crying in frustration as they try to fill out the forms, you may not understand quite how vital this particular change is. The old system was designed to be complex in order to discourage fraudsters from bothering; the new system will build in more proactive checks. And about bloody time too.

The tory proposals, on the other hand, are replete with the rhetoric of disdain for the poor and needy. In the conservative worldview, people need to be stopped at all costs from ‘playing the system’; the government has a ‘moral right’ to ‘protect families’, the practical upshot of which is tax benefits for married couples, as if a silver ring ever solved anything. Quite apart from the fact that Labour’s report is massively longer and more in-depth, quite apart from the fact that it answers the conservative challenge with the diligence of a progressive government purposefully handling the difficulties of practical power, we cannot – simply cannot – have tory hardliners like Chris Grayling in charge of this delicate transitional period in the benefits system.

This welfare reform package is one that can only be successfully implemented by a socially aware, self-policing socialist party of the type that, at its best, Labour tries to be. Conservatives such as Grayling have claimed that Purnell’s proposals are a ‘straight lift’ from tory plans; they are not. If anything, the latest proposals represent a visionary re-working of a policy which, under the Tories, would further criminalise the working classes and drive hundreds of thousands into poverty, debt, addiction and despair.

Because the tories have far less idea even than the incumbent government of what real poverty really means. You can’t say ‘credit crunch’ with out baring your teeth into a snarl, and it’s going for the throat of benefit recipients trying to live on £40 per week. MPs demonstrating ‘belt-tightening’ by not demanding increases on their sixty grand salaries live in an entirely different world from people on JSA and Incapacity Benefit. The welfare state was never designed, as the tories claim, to allow ‘a young man to grow up’ knowing that ‘the state will support him’ whatever choices he makes: if you live on benefits, you are poor. Very poor, and you’ll stay poor unless your circumstances change. A life lived on benefits is a life on the breadline, a life replete with stress and starved of reward and acheivement, a life in many respects half-lived. The vast majority of people on state benefits are keen to return to work – the problem, is that many face tremendous obstacles in obtaining and retaining employment.

The conservatives’ mantra of small government, of decreasing state support in every arena in favour of ‘the family,’ will be massively detrimental to the real good that has been done in moving millions of people off benefits and over the poverty line in the past decade. David Cameron believes that:

‘The primary institution in our lives is the family. It looks after the sick, cares for children and the elderly, supports working people and the unemployed’ –

Woah there. Reading between the lines, doesn’t that mean that families should be doing the work of the state, just like they did in the pre-industrial era? Well, presumably they’re planning to reward domestic work financially, then, aren’t they, and take massive social steps to encourage social cohesiveness within all family structures, and provide equal benefits for civilly-partnered homosexual couples and married straight couples alike? No? Or, just for instance here, could it be another strategy to shove vital care structures such as ‘caring for children and the elderly, supporting working people and the unemployed’ out into the streets in order to save money? We’ve heard this one before. It was called ‘Care in the Community.’

Oh, yes. And tucked away in the pages of ‘Work for Welfare’ are some really juicy howlers, such as:

‘Equal pay audits will apply only to those firms which lose pay discrimination cases’.

Which is a logical and VITAL part of making the welfare state work for everyone, clearly. Only a progressive socialist government has the tenacity and social responsibility to make welfare reform work: we must work now to avoid handing a fledgling system based on ‘rights and responsibilities’ over to the tories, who will never understand in our lifetimes what it really means to be poor, sick and desperate.

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About Laurie Penny

Author, journalist, social justice bard.

30 responses »

  1. Someone’s being absorbed by the Fabians 😉

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  2. Someone’s being absorbed by the Fabians 😉

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  3. they’ll never take me alive!

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  4. Family doing the job of the state?
    The state is inefficient and corrupt. The less we require of it the better.

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  5. I work in welfare rights as an adviser. The ESA is most certainly not about enpowering anyone. Much more support for people looking for training and work combined with a real push against disability discrimination in the workplace would have been a better bet. The ESA is based on right-wing culture of dependency theories. These hold that people livng on benefits learn to become idle and feckless: these then become the reason for them continuig to be on benefit. This is nonsense. The statistics for people claiming working age benefits closely mirror macro-economic and policy changes. The current round of welfare reform is all about stigmatising the poor and saving the treasury money (which will not be used to relieve the “poor old taxpayer”).

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  6. ‘The ESA is based on right-wing culture of dependency theories. These hold that people livng on benefits learn to become idle and feckless: these then become the reason for them continuig to be on benefit. This is nonsense.’

    Tony, this is massively concerning – can you send me some links or more information?

    laurie.penny@gmail.com

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  7. Mark Wadsworth

    Going by that photo, you look like Annabelle Fuller out of UKIP. But I digress.

    As a Citizen’s Income ethusiast, these LibLabConsensus ideas are in fact pretty much of a muchness.
    What’s wrong with:
    1. Keep it simple.
    2. Reduce means testing/benefit withdrawal to no more than basic rate of tax/NI.
    3. Pay benefits to individuals not households so as not to discourage marriage/relationships. If you look at the DWPs Tax Benefit Model Tables you will see that the couple-penalty is humungous, the Tory stupid idea of a transferable MCA (worth about £20 a week) is a drop in the ocean.

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  8. James Ivens

    “The state is inefficient and corrupt. The less we require of it the better.”

    Whilst your first statement, Mark, is demonstrable, your second is mystifying. Allow me to invite you to elaborate on how, and why, such a system would operate.

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  9. State burocrats don’t care about people in their charge in thwe way that family and community do, so it is preferable to recieve care from family and community where possible.

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  10. James Ivens

    Granted, Mark, bureaucrats can’t be expected to develop the emotional attachment of a community for those in care — but you need only read Penny’s article for a summary of the yawning holes communitarian politics leaves: massive sexual, social, and economic inequality. The fairest way to provide care, and the only way to provide it unilaterally, is for everyone to pitch in. The only way to organise resources for such a system is centrally. So while it is true that civil servants can seem uncaring, and large systems inevitably suffer from some inefficencies, better legislation and implementation of a national benefits system remains superior to the wildly variable care abilities of different communities. Not as a replacement, but a safeguard, ensuring evenhanded treatment and no one left behind.

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  11. The idea that the welfare reforms are in any way progressive is deluded.

    For a genesis of the current reforms see: Jonathan Rutherford’s: ‘New Labour, The Market State ad te End of Welfare’

    These measures are aimed purely at cutting benefits. A genuinely progressive policy would not require so many sticks – the carrot of genuine employment opportunities would be welcomed and ‘jumped at’ by 80% of those ‘languishing’ on benefits.

    Instead, many with significant disabilities will be labelled as ‘capable of work’ by poorly trained officials working for private firms being paid a bonanza for cutting welfare rolls. As a result they will remain unemployed but will have their already meagre benefits cut by 30%.

    Penny Magenta would be more accurate.

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  12. You mean this article? http://www.ukwatch.net/article/
    new_labour,_the_market_state,_
    and_the_end_of_welfare

    From the article: ‘Welfare reform exemplifies the transformation of the old style nation state into a new kind of ‘enabling’ market state. Instead of providing social protection, the market state offers ‘opportunities’ and ‘choice’ to ‘customers’, who in return must shoulder a greater degree of responsibility for their individual predicament.’

    Well, this is my main problem with Purnell’s policies. Labour are attempting to find a market solution to what the Tories did so many years ago: rip the heart out of British industry, leaving millions unemployed and move them onto Incapacity Benefit, and creat a toxic work culture that even relatively healthy people find themselves too unwell to cope with.

    The problem isn’t with people’s health, it’s with our culture of work. And yes, as Rutherford says, Labour’s strategy for changing that work culture isn’t perfect, but it brings in the idea of returning people to part time work, simplifying the claims system and returning to people the notion of dignity in and through work.

    The right to be aided in finding appropriate emploment is something that a lot of people in this country lost twenty years ago. I think, I hope, that this paper is a step towards that. Labour needs to step up and realise that there are more ways of doing this than just market capitalism.

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  13. “Instead, many with significant disabilities will be labelled as ‘capable of work’ by poorly trained officials working for private firms being paid a bonanza for cutting welfare rolls. As a result they will remain unemployed but will have their already meagre benefits cut by 30%.”
    I’m on Incapacity Benefit and this matches what I see happening. I have no faith in the ESA or in any party’s intent to help people like me into suitable and sustainable employment. I look forward to a future of an even lower income whether on benefits or in low-paid jobs, ongoing financial instability and increasing ill-health and disability. I hope I am proved wrong.

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  14. lifeonmars

    Sorry Penny, but if you really believe that the welfare reforms have anything to do with “… the idea of returning people to part time work, simplifying the claims system and returning to people the notion of dignity in and through work”, you really are clutching at straws.

    These reforms have been informed by the neoliberal-friendly idea that ‘disability’ is largely a matter of psychology. To quote Waddell and Aylward: “Illness is a behaviour – ‘all the things people say and do that express and communicate their feelings of being unwell’ … The degree of illness behaviour is dependent not upon an underlying pathology but on ‘individual attitudes and beliefs’, as well as ‘the social context and culture in which it occurs’. Halligan and Wade are more explicit: ‘Personal choice plays an important part in the genesis or maintenance of illness’.”

    It is no coincidence that one of the private insurance lobbyists, Unum Provident, who declared that ‘even the most functionally disabled’ could be expected to work, is now using the reforms in their literature to promote private disability insurance!

    As I’ve already argued, if employment opportunities were genuinely available for people with significant disabilities there would be no need to reform the benefits system, because they’d be queuing round the block – unless you happen to believe that people with disabilities are inherently lazy, or mostly scroungers. The irony is that disabled people have been consigned to the benefit rolls because it’s cheaper than making suitable provision for employment. But, it seems, not cheap enough. So the bar has been raised and anyone deemed ‘capable of work’ (and, using Stephen Hawking as an example, that could mean just about anyone) will become a ‘jobseeker’ and have their benefit reduced accordingly. Whether or not they have a realistic opportunity of getting a job is irrelevant.

    Just put yourself in the position of someone with MS, knowing the chances of finding suitable employment are slim to nothing. You’re faced with a junior official who’s had a couple of days of disability awareness training, and is being paid a bonus for getting people off the higher rate of benefit onto Jobseekers’ Allowance. Do you emphasise what you can do in the hope of being offered a job by sympathetic employer who can accommodate the up and downs of your condition, give you extra days off, find less onerous work when you have a relapse, etc? Or do you try to explain all the (often quite intimate) problems you have for fear of being classed ‘capable of work’ and consigned to Jobseekers’ Allowance? Given that the government have already announced that most claimants will be on the lower rate, hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities will have their benefits cut.

    I’m afraid the idea that those on the ‘left’ should vote New Labour simply because they are marginally less neoliberal than the Tories doesn’t really hold water. They’ve actually been able to push the market into areas of the public sector that the Tories could only dream about when faced with a vigorous opposition. As Ruth Levitas has argued: “New Labour is more effectively neo-liberal than Thatcherism,
    because it leaves no organisational basis for resistance”. Hence the NHS is being sliced and diced ready for the private sector without even a minimal degree of accountability, social care has been largely privatised, tuition fees – that pipe-dream of Keith Joseph that Margaret Thatcher saw as a bridge too far – are about to be ratcheted up, and state schools are being offered up for a pittance in direct opposition to the wishes of local communities. Inequality continues to accelerate and social mobility rates decline on a scale that outstrips anything seen under the sainted Margaret. That’s without even considering the lurch to right-wing authoritarianism, with 42 days detention, limits of trial by jury, the slashing of legal aid, etc., etc. Oh… and the Iraq war.

    Defending this record on the grounds that the Tories would be worse seems pretty desperate. To claim that anyone that can’t stomach this idea is merely being self-indulgent is absurd.

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  15. Hi Penny

    I don’t think anyone is trying to reduce the meagre amount of benefits a genuine disabled person or a very seriously ill mental patient is receiving.

    Its the people that are taking the mickey that we see on the news with 7 children and no income. Or those that are a little bit depressed or their back hurts a little or they just plain don’t feel like going to work.

    Being forced to work will – in the long run – make them feel better about themselves. We need to break this sense of entitlement and I notice that you are unusually quiet about this “killing with kindness” phenomenon.

    According to “They burn our money” blog there are places in london where there are more then 50% of the working age population on benefits – can you not see something wrong with that? Especially when you have Eastern Europeans flying in on one day and already working the next.

    What am I missing here?

    South African

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  16. Okay, lifeonmars; I wasn’t going to bring the personal stuff into this, but I actually have quite a lot of experience of disability.

    I suffer from a mental health difficulty myself which means that I have some work difficulties; I have three close friends who are long-term recipients of incapacity benefit. My partner, who I live with, is physically and mentally disabled, and I am his main carer when he is recovering from operations or having down days. Another of our housemates has severe MS and is, at the moment, having to juggle that with managing a full-time job, which is putting immense strain on his health.

    So yes, I think I understand just a little bit that disabled people aren’t lazy, or scroungers. My point was actually that the conservative document seems to think they are.

    The big reason why so many people are on IB and other benefits isn’t because they cannot work, however. It’s because British working culture and the type of jobs available are not conducive to maintaining good health in people whose health may be fragile. My partner, or my housemate, are both capable of working; what they’re not capable of and should not be expected to do is to work twelve hours a day, sometimes six days a week, as, for example, my housemate with MS does.

    The other reason that worklessness has become endemic, with entire families ‘on the sick’, is the tory destruction of British industry. Across the board, rates of uptake of IB are far highest in former industrial areas where no effort was made to help people into appropriate work, leading to massive unemployment, depression, addictions and other mental health issues which, combined with the physical after-effects of (eg.) working in a coal mine meant that many people have spent their lives on IB. Those people aren’t scroungers. They aren’t lazy. They are genuinely unwell, but the reason they are unwell is that their government screwed them over. What needs to happen to turn around the fortunes of places like Merthyr Tydfill, the IB capital of the country, is a structured plan to help people back to work and genuinely care for those who can’t – rather than maintaining the whole town just above the poverty line.

    What I hope – I *hope* – the Labour pledge is working towards is a model of social justice where people don’t have to make a choice between staying ‘on the sick’ and killing themselves working too hard in a hyper-masculised, long-hours, low-pay work culture that is under no pressure to look after them.

    What I’d like to see in Labour’s initiatives is more schemes to put the onus on employers to act out that responsibility towards their employees. There are nods towards corporate responsibility in the Green Paper; not enough.

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  17. lifeonmars

    I also have some experience of disability, which is why I believe these reforms will do little to address the points you make:

    “The big reason why so many people are on IB and other benefits isn’t because they cannot work, however. It’s because British working culture and the type of jobs available are not conducive to maintaining good health in people whose health may be fragile. My partner, or my housemate, are both capable of working; what they’re not capable of and should not be expected to do is to work twelve hours a day, sometimes six days a week, as, for example, my housemate with MS does.”

    If New Labour’s approach were really not predicated on the belief that most disabled people are ‘choosing’ not to work, why the need for such draconian penalties? Why the compulsion to attend interviews – even for the most severely disabled? Is it really because disabled people just don’t know what’s good for them? Why the need to pay bonuses to firms that reduce the level of welfare payments? I repeat, given that 80% of those on IB express a desire to return to work, enabling them to do so would cut the welfare bill without the need for coercion.

    The public have been softened up for these reforms with a decade and a half of headlines about disability benefit scroungers, despite the fact that numerous crackdowns cost more than the level of fraud uncovered. Every time someone is found claiming benefit while running the line at football matches it makes the front page. The thousands of genuine claimants initially denied benefit are rarely heard of. Nor is the fact that billions remain unclaimed due to the stigma attached. Anonymous’s posting is a typical result such misreporting.

    Given your own situation, I find it astounding that you broadly welcome these measures, but have to admire your optimism.

    I do hope you’re right and I’m wrong.

    Apologies for hogging your blog.

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  18. Penny & Life On mars

    You don't need to read a newspaper or watch television to see poeple who are taking advantage of the benefits system – they are walking around all over. The really sick and disabled are the ones that can't make it to fill out any of the forms. If an area has up to 50% population on benefits there is either something in the water or as much as half of them are taking the mickey. Its not about the money – its about where the money goes. We are now creating a culture where it is OK to have children that you cannot financially support – this we can see on the streets – we don't need anyone to tell us.

    On the tory's destroying British Industry – I have researched and I believe it destroyed itself. We compete now on an international level where if Brits don't want to work 12 hours a day there are others who will. In fact closer to home its the foreign workers here who work those 12 hours pay tax so that there is money for people to claim.

    I don't understand how you want government to create business – they don't know how to do it – and again I believe that there have been numerous examples of where it hasn't worked out – under Labour.

    South African

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  19. palmer1984

    What lifeonmars said mostly. I find that the fact that the disabled will be consigned to JSA and forced to go to interviews deeply worrying.

    As others have said more support for those who feel ready to return to work would be a genuinely progressive measure.

    Where I do agree with you is that Labour are probably better than the Tories. I don’t think saying that means I have to support the ESA. Labour being better than the Tories DOES NOT MEAN that I have to support the ESA. I hope very much that the Tories do not get a landslide at the next election (and if I were living in a constuency where the vote was close between labour and the Tories I would vote labour), but I will still oppose labour neoliberal policies as much as ever.

    [Sorry if this is not coherently argued. In an internet cafe in Dublin atm]

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  20. “The fairest way to provide care, and the only way to provide it unilaterally, is for everyone to pitch in. The only way to organise resources for such a system is centrally.”

    Well, my initial comment related to the idea that caring for people was primarily the job of government not the family, which I saw as fairly wrong headed.
    Anyway, do you really think that the national level (in a country the size of britain) is the best way to run welfare? I can’t say that i’m convinced that such a system is good for the morale or particuarly effective. It all rather depends on the people at the center being more knowledgable than those closer to the action.

    PS
    I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that in an area as rich as modern britain, poverty doesn’t really mean anything in a physical sense, and generally is more of a moral problem.

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  21. James Ivens

    “Well, my initial comment related to the idea that caring for people was primarily the job of government not the family, which I saw as fairly wrong headed.”

    As far as income support is concerned, I rather disagree: it is the duty of the government to ensure that its citizens do not fall below an acceptable standard of living. Ideally this is by assisting unemployed citizens into fruitful employment with equitable remuneration. Sometimes — periods of economic crisis, or of a surfeit of a particular skill group, for example — this is not immediately possible.

    So, in order to accommodate citizens at times when work is scarce or retraining programmes are required, to prevent people from struggling in poverty — which I think we can both agree is unacceptable — income support is necessary. The crux of our first argument is over sourcing.

    In the case of wealthier communities, such as that which — please forgive my uninformed presumption — I suppose you to be from, and of which, indeed, I am lucky enough to be a product, of course it is natural for families and communities to support the unemployed. There will be sufficient solvency for a family, or group of families, to support the temporarily financially embarrassed.

    In poorer communities, it is not fair to expect families and the community to carry the further burden of unemployed workers alone. Of course, they will offer emotional support — but in crowded homes, with families struggling to feed themselves already, can the state reasonably stand by and allow those unable to find work to make the situation worse? I think we can both agree that, since some communities can not support the unemployed comfortably, the state must offer a financial safeguard until such time as work is found. You seem to be labouring under the mistaken impression that the poor of this country are not suffering. True, it can not be said that they undergo hardship on a Dickensian scale — a triumph! — but we still have a poverty line, the income below which a person or household cannot pay for the necessities of modern life. And there are still many persons and households that fall below it. And many more that will so do if expected to support persons without income unaided.

    Furthermore, it is statistically demonstrable that workers from lower income backgrounds are not only less likely to earn higher wages — the sort which allow one to (a) save against future financial difficulties and (b) support the unemployed of one’s community — but also more likely to be laid off. While I understand your interpretation of poverty as a “moral” rather than “material” issue, thorough analysis reveals compelling evidence for the latter. Those from poorer backgrounds have almost exclusively worse diets, fewer intellectual stimuli, fewer societal connections, and more limited aspirational horizons, than you or I. It is not their fault, or that of their communities, it is simply that no person can be expected to fly high with such a disproportionate scarcity of developmental resources. Supporting the unemployed stretches these resources further, and the problem becomes worse.

    I think we can both agree that allowing poverty and unemployment to spread is not good for these people or our society; hence the necessity of state benefits.

    “Anyway, do you really think that the national level (in a country the size of britain) is the best way to run welfare?”

    Allow me to clarify: the funding for welfare must come from the national level. It is preposterous to suppose that poor communities will be able fund welfare locally; if they had the wealth for that, a welfare system would not be necessary in the first place. Obviously communities which do not rely on welfare as much will requisition a smaller portion of the national budget. Furtherly, the rules governing welfare must be fair and equal; it would not be right for the destitute of Hull to be be better treated than the destitute of Slough, would it? Central legislation and operational guidelines ensure equity of treatment. I think we can both agree that this is a good thing.

    “It all rather depends on the people at the center being more knowledgable than those closer to the action.”

    I can see your complaint here. Of course, centralised organisation risks becoming out of touch. Rather than abandoning it for communitarianism, which appears attractive enough, but has inherent to it certain flaws already mentioned, would it not be better to introduce better communication between “those closer to the action” and those apportioning funds and making rules? I think we can both agree that such an administrative environment would go some way to mitigating the problems of our current system, and making your proposed alternative unnecessary. The only hurdle is its introduction.

    New Labour and the Conservatives (Labour perhaps a little less) want to reduce the state’s outgoings at the expense of swathes of the society that supports (and is puportedly served by) it. The current system, and the two proposed bills of change, are profoundly flawed from both a socialist and conservative standpoint. The difference being that, as socialists, we are fighting to fix it, not perpetuate the problems it ineffectually treats by reducing it.

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  22. James, thank you for the thoughtful response.

    While I think there are some good arguments for a welfare state, I certainly don’t think fairness is one of them.

    The system of centralised nation-wide benefits provision only works if we feel we have something in common with those that we are supporting. The idea that we should spend time working for those we don’t know simply for the sake of fairness flies in the face of human nature and reality. Fairness only applies (if at all) to those within a society/community, not to those outside of it. The fact that you consider it necessary for the state to organise the redistribution of wealth indicates that the UK as a whole is not a coherent community (if it was, why would compulsion be necessary?)

    Back to role of the state – in general, not only should increased state intervention (and compulsion) be unnecessary if you trust people to be considerate and support their own community, but the additional burden of taxation and state regulation makes it harder for them to do so by themselves. Increased state intervention is particularly damaging because in the majority of cases poverty itself isn’t even the major problem – its fairly clear that the problems in the poorer communities cannot be solved by simply throwing money at them. The thing that make these areas so unattractive to live in is the behaviour of the inhabitants. Maybe the poor of Glasgow would be better off if we cut it loose and they were forced to rediscover their work ethic – I certainly see no good reason why a sizeable community working together in one of the richest areas of the world (with adequate infrastructure and access to technological benefits) would be unable to support itself if it wanted/ had to.

    I’d like to add that while I don’t actually think the welfare state in of itself is the worst thing that has ever happened, increasing state power and attempting to replace personal relations and responsibility with state bureaucracy generally is.

    P.S. While my current bank balance and lifestyle are decidedly SUB-middle class by modern British standards (I doubt if too many people on welfare have smaller homes than me…), on an international and historical level I’m still exceptionally rich/lucky.
    Aren’t we all?

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  23. James Ivens

    Mark, thanks for your views. My apologies for the lateness of this response.

    “The system of centralised nation-wide benefits provision only works if we feel we have something in common with those that we are supporting.”

    If you’ll excuse a plain refutation, this is evidently not the case. A particular individual or group who feels hirself or itself to be above a section of society does not cause the collapse of the system.

    “The idea that we should spend time working for those we don’t know…”

    Hold!

    “Working for those we don’t know” — when you work, for whom do you work? If you are employed, you work for your employer. You make hir more money than s/he pays you. Is your argument that this is unacceptable? If yes, see (1) below. If no, see (2).

    (1) We’ll make a socialist of you yet! You find working for the disproportionate benefit of others unfair. Do you wish to work for the benefit of your society in the name of more proportionate distribution (see (3)) or solely for your own benefit (see (4))?

    (2) You are happy to work for the disproportionate benefit of your employers. Your statement can only mean that you are willing to work for the benefit of some, not all. Is this because you have judged that a section of society you have never met does not need support (“poverty line” QV), does not deserve support (see (5)), or if you don’t believe these things, is it that you have failed to consider a double standard (rethink your position)?

    (3) You are a socialist! Welcome to the fold.

    (4) You are a neoliberal anarchist, and possibly autistic.

    (5) You will need to explain your judgement that these people do not deserve support.

    “…flies in the face of human nature…”

    Not mine! Are you supreme sociolgical spokesman for humanity?

    “…and reality.”

    That reality being what, if anything?

    “Fairness only applies (if at all) to those within a society/community, not to those outside of it.”

    I see we have been reduced to redefining terms. ‘An intractable constituent property of fairness is unilateral application’ cried my usage and yours! Yet now, ‘no true fairness that!’.

    Aside from which, why does fairness “only” apply thusly? Why might it not apply “at all”? What do you mean by this nebulous concept of fairness, what is wrong with its application, and why? This argument, with many that follow, really is begging the question.

    “The fact that you consider it necessary for the state to organise the redistribution of wealth indicates that the UK as a whole is not a coherent community (if it was, why would compulsion be necessary?)”

    What is a “coherent community”, and why is it salient? Stop muddying the waters with meaningless rhetoric, Mark!

    “Back to role of the state – in general, not only should increased state intervention (and compulsion) be unnecessary if you trust people to be considerate and support their own community”

    Trust has nothing to do with it! Your own scepticism quoad “human nature” accords with the excessively demonstrable “reality” that people are not “considerate” and do not “support their own community” — whatever we mean by “community” — and whether or not this is salient, since we have already, in this post and all prior posts, disagreed about the validity of communitarian politics! Your implication is that an organised system allows people to sit back and leave the work to others. This is true — but what is wrong with leaving the work to others, so long as the work is done properly?

    “the additional burden of taxation and state regulation makes it harder for them to do so by themselves”

    Indeed, for the working and middle classes. But see my query above! Not so, the rich. And yet do they support the poor? The answer, of course, is ‘sometimes’. Is sometimes good enough?

    “Increased state intervention is particularly damaging because in the majority of cases poverty itself isn’t even the major problem”

    What is the problem, and where have you found the data to demonstrate it?

    “its fairly clear that the problems in the poorer communities cannot be solved by simply throwing money at them”

    I’m sorry, I thought we were talking about temporary support for the unemployed? When did we start arguing about education and regeneration? Better education and facilities have been demonstrated to promote class mobility, yes, but welfare is a stopgap, not a cure. We have no disagreement there.

    “The thing that make these areas so unattractive to live in is the behaviour of the inhabitants.”

    Post hoc ergo cum hoc. Might it not be the other way round? Of course, the thing is a spiral. I would point you toward the well-documented psychological phenomenon of Broken Window Syndrome which may adjust some erroneous preconceptions about the behavioural tendencies of inhabitants of poor areas.

    “Maybe the poor of Glasgow would be better off if we cut it loose and they were forced to rediscover their work ethic”

    Well, to be sure, a weak work ethic may be the cause of some welfare abuse, but providing the education and opportunities to find fulfilling work, or addressing pay inequality, are effective methods of instilling one. Leperising the poor, cutting them off, makes not workers, but thieves. But, again, I thought we were arguing about the administration of welfare (central v communitarian), not its justification for existence.

    “I certainly see no good reason why a sizeable community working together in one of the richest areas of the world (with adequate infrastructure and access to technological benefits) would be unable to support itself if it wanted/ had to.”

    Your hidden assumption here is not even hidden — please examine your parenthetical premise, and think about what you’ve just said.

    “I’d like to add that while I don’t actually think the welfare state in of itself is the worst thing that has ever happened, increasing state power and attempting to replace personal relations and responsibility with state bureaucracy generally is.”

    Who said anything about “replac[ing] personal relations”? We’re talking about organising funding for poor communities, not bureaucratising the family.

    I hope this may have answered some of your implicit questions, and that you will take the time to consider my explicit ones.

    As regards your postscript: George Orwell (I believe it was in ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’) pointed out that class is often independent of income. I, for example, have the education and connections of the middle classes, but earn less than many in the working class. I earn, in fact, a poverty wage — almost a grand below what Ken Livingstone’s mayoralty described as the “London Living Wage” over a year ago. If it weren’t for the connections of my class and the economic security provided by my parents, I’d be in dire straits indeed. And of course, compared to our forebears, we almost all of us have it easier. True dat shit.

    Reply
  24. James Ivens

    Apologies to Mark and any passing Classicists, Latin is not my strength.

    When I pointed out your “post hoc ergo cum hoc” (after this therefore with this) argument, I should have said “cum hoc ergo procter hoc” (with this therfore because of this) — which actually makes sense.

    Reply
  25. James Ivens

    Apologies to Mark and any passing Classicists, Latin is not my strength.

    When I pointed out your “post hoc ergo cum hoc” (after this therefore with this) argument, I should have said “cum hoc ergo procter hoc” (with this therfore because of this) — which actually makes sense.

    Reply
  26. “A particular individual or group who feels himself or itself to be above a section of society does not cause the collapse of the system.”

    Hmmm… I’m not sure I understand your point here, but it sounds chillingly like an argument for a police state.
    Anyway … regarding my occupational situation and political outlook, obviously I don’t have a problem working for others as long as I‘m free to make the choice of who it is that I work for. I do know my employer (he’s a rather jolly fellow with a natty little beard) and I know exactly how he contributes to the company I work for and the mutual prosperity of our little group.
    It seems obvious that our disagreement here regards our understanding of fairness, community and human nature. Firstly, fairness as instinct. While I think I may have been wrong to claim that ideas of fairness don’t apply at all to those outside of a community (though the fact that they do is perhaps just an odd quirk of our modern society and excessive wealth), I believe I am right in saying that these ideas don’t extend to contributing up to 50% of your labour to strangers, without any expectation of reciprocation. Fairness is an instinct that allows humans to live together and cooperate – it occurs spontaneously and therefore it is not necessary for the government to promote it. Fairness doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with equality, it is simply used to decide upon the correct distribution of resources whatever that may be.
    That you might take the existence of this instinct to suggest that a greater degree of equality on a national level is an attractive (or achievable) aim is mind boggling. Fairness as an ideal (economic equality) could only ever exist on a small scale and that’s because in the vast majority of cases people are more concerned with those who are close to them, than to those who are (genetically, geographically , ideologically) more distant. Essentially, the larger and more diverse the nation becomes the less concerned with equality people will be. Really, this is what I mean when I say community – those who are US and certainly not THEM (by whatever means that happens to be defined).
    A coherent community is one in which the members identify with each other. For the past few hundred years it has been possible, through the use of ideological trickery, to expand the maximum size of the coherent community, but now that the military motivation for such constructions has disappeared, so has the motivation of the elite to maintain them.
    Considering that community is a group of people who identify with each other and that people generally have an instinct for dealing with each other and cooperating with those they identify with, why would compulsion be necessary within a community? The very worst that can happen is that someone is found to be non-cooperative, or parasitic and other members would simply stop cooperating with them.
    Why does state compulsion have to come into this? Isn’t it possible that Britain is too large to function as an administrative unit?

    Regarding moral and economic poverty, the reason why I don’t consider absolute poverty to be the problem is because such poverty doesn’t exist in Britain. Poverty in Britain is relative and as such can be avoided with a little attitude adjustment. As for the areas in which they live – if they’re all unemployed and have plenty of time on their hands, all other things being equal, shouldn’t their areas actually be the most pleasant to live in? You state that leperising the poor makes them into thieves – if that is the case, then this may well be a good reason for welfare on a local level, but I don’t really see what someone in Sussex has to fear from criminal gangs of Glaswegians…

    “Who said anything about “replac[ing] personal relations”? We’re talking about organising funding for poor communities, not bureaucratising the family.”

    This was discussion was started over the passage regarding “family doing the job of state”. Unfortunately, the bureaucratisation of the family and of larger social groups is exactly what is happening.

    If working class people have more money than middle class people, then how can it be easier for the middle class to support themselves? Anyway, since I , my parents and every member of my family work – I guess I’m working class. Just not the common sort.

    Reply
  27. James Ivens

    Mark,

    In the words of various parliamentarians, “I refer the honourable gentleman to the statement I made not some moments ago.”

    Every point you have raised has been demonstrated as ill-founded or dismissed as non-salient in at least one previous post. I refuse to dignify a wilfully repetitious argument with cyclic re-refutation.

    Should you extract yourself from the pit of onanistic effluence engendered by your half-witted attempts to match analytic discourse with elliptical autoplagiarism, do drop back in and we shall have a meaningful discussion.

    However, should your akratic attitude toward political thinking prevail — well, don’t expect me to indulge your fist fun without any prospect of (at least) a reach-around.

    Reply
  28. Does anybody seriously think that the charmless smirking hobbit-like figure of James Purnell will ever become leader of the Labour Party? This dreadful little creature will probably only be able to get his “welfare reform” bill through the House of Commons with help from the Consevative Party! He will probably not be able to get a majority only from Labour MPs despite a majority on his side in the dozens.

    Unbelievable.

    Does he seriously intend to condemn the long term unemployed to an open ended sentence of community service that only ends if the lucky punter gets work, falls too ill to continue or dies!

    Are we really going to see women in their forties, fifties even their late fifties, possibly in boilersuits or other uniforms just like criminals, forced to pick up litter in all waethers under threat of destitution and homelessness if they answer back or fail to toe the line!

    I understand that one million people may be joining the dole queue in the next twelve months. this being the case how will Purnell be able to pursue his “blame the victim” strategy to justify his merciless persecution of the unemployed with so many men and women being forced to claim benefit?

    Purnell really is an unspeakably horrible little man.

    I’d rather Frodo, Merry, Pippin or Sam be elected to lead the Labour Party than this bloodless golem.

    Reply
  29. New Labour could have done the same thing differently. Here’s what they could have said:

    “Anyone unemployed for two years will be offered a worthwhile job in the community, that pays the minimum wage and gives them access to the tax credits system, for up to one year while they continue to look for work…”

    Why aren’t they doing this?

    Because they already piloted it and it flopped magnificently!

    New Labour piloted a scheme called STEPUp which cost a fortune and failed to get its participants into gainful employment in any meaningful way. See:

    http://www.kevinbrennan.co.uk/content/view/178/93/

    If this didn’t work why should the coercive “workfare” solution proposed by the neo-Conservative Party (New Labour) or Conservative Party (Tories) fare any better?

    How can Purnell square forcing people to work for Jobseeker’s Allowance (£60.10 a seek at the highest rate) and the minimum wage? How can it be right for a government to exploit men and women of all ages in a working environment in a manner it has outlawed in respect to public or private employers?

    In my heart of hearts I know this policy is so wrong and will cause so much misery to so many innocent people and families I find it difficult to think about.

    A penny for your thoughts on the matter Ms. Red.

    Reply
  30. Disappointed Jesus

    Like the naked Emperor dressed in his intangible and invisible clothes Gordon Brown’s moral compass can now be seen to have no needle.

    Brown and the Labour party have lost their way.

    All that time waiting for Blair to go and for a really good man to succeed him and look at what we got with Brown: a party abrogating responsibility vis-a-vis welfare reform to that bloodless little golem James Purnell.

    Workfare? Are we really going to be greeted by the spectacle, in five or six years, if Labour are returned to office at the next general election, of mature women in their forties, fifties and possibly even sixties, dressed in orange boiler suits or fatigues, like convicts on a chain gang, forced to pick up litter like petty criminals because they have tried their best but failed to find work during an involuntary two year period of unemployment? These people could have worked for decades before losing their jobs in responsible positions and may well not even be physically capable of carrying out the unskilled menial work Purnell thinks will be so beneficial for them.

    I looked up “community service” on the web and found no sentence passed on any petty criminal longer than four hundred hours, i.e., ten weeks work at forty hours a week, yet Brown’s hobbit-like protege James Purnell plans to pass an open ended “sentence” of “community service” on the long-term unemployed which only terminates if the unlucky and degraded recipient finds work, retires, becomes too ill to continue or actually dies (presumably preferably “on the job” I would imagine). And are these conscripts going to be given the minimum wage and access to Brown’s arcane system of tax credits while thus dragooned? No. Even the Americans paid workfare conscripts the minimum wage pre-Bush.

    For twenty eight years I voted Labour in every election local and general until 2005 when, revolted by Blair and his neo-Conservativism, I decided vote Liberal Democrat unable to lend my support to Blair’s perfidious programme of legislation however tenuously. (I cannot remember any Prime Minister having to force a bill through the house of commons only because he had the support of the opposition, as Blair did with his education bill and as Purnell will doubtless have to do with his final bill on welfare reform designed to force innocent hard-pressed men and women to work for next to nothing – all for their own good you understand and not to break their spirit so that they will accept any kind of low paid and temporary work that may be going, probably miles and miles away from their homes and families. )

    Although John Prescott made much of the programmes to build social housing Labour supposedly planned prior to 1997 Blair and Brown administrations actually built less social housing than Thatcher and Major who did all they could to dispose of the housing stock themselves. I think that arch New Labour muppet Caroline Flint’s suggestion that unemployed tenants be evicted from council housing to live in absolute homeless destitution demonstrates conclusively how New Labour regards social tenants.

    Shame on you Gordon Brown.

    Your could have been a truly great statesman and leader who would be remembered with great affection by the British people: now you will only be remembered as the unelected leader of the Labour Party and unelected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who led his party out of power after thirteen years in office into a long (possibly even permanent) period of opposition.

    James Purnell seems intent on making a name for himself… personally, when that name is habitually slang for human sexual organs or bodily orifices, well, it’s not a name that I would like attached to myself to be honest!

    Reply

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